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Retail Learning

The Lizard Lounge Way: Make an unforgettable first impression with these visual hooks

When shoppers walk through the door, make a first impression that leaves them wanting more. You need to meet, greet and, hopefully, bedazzle rather than (ye-gad!) bore customers. The merchandising experts at the Lizard Lounge retail store offer these key visual hooks to keep customers coming back again and again.

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Welcome to the The Lizard Lounge Way, a regular merchandising column in SNEWS®. Each month, the Lizard Lounge team — Kelsie Morrow, store manager and a Portland Art Institute professor of merchandising; Shelby Coral, head men’s visual merchandiser; and Jolie Giese, the chief merchandising officer for Horny Toad, Nau and the Lizard Lounge — bring our readers an inside look at their merchandising laboratory. Packed with visuals, there’s something in every column, even for the most experienced merchandising eye. 

When shoppers walk through the door, make a first impression that leaves them wanting more. Those initial three to seven minutes are crucial. You need to meet, greet and, hopefully, bedazzle rather than (ye-gad!) bore customers. During that time, they decide one of three things: 1) Yes, I’d like to shop here… 2) Next, please… 3) Oh, that’s bad…

It’s undeniable that a bad first impression is nearly impossible to undo. There are many influences at work in the shopping experience, but the look of a store holds the most sway in enticing a consumer through the doors. The store can be summed up in that initial in-store encounter in visual terms: either a store is exciting, clean and well-organized, or, at the other end of the scale, boring, messy and overwhelming.

The store image is a key element in getting a consumer to come inside. Everything you do within the store — how you develop your layout, your presentation, your signage, your displays, your events and, of course, your staff — must fit into the image you choose to create.

Why start with store image?

Image can best be described as the overall look of a store, evoking certain mental pictures and feelings for customers. For retailers, developing a powerful image provides the opportunity to embody a single message, stand out from the competition and be remembered.

As a rule, image is the foundation of all retailing efforts. While store layout, presentation, signage, displays and events can all change to reflect newness and excitement from week to week and season to season, these changes must always remain true to the principle store image. Elements like an unmistakable storefront, inviting entrance and consistent store look combine to form a distinctive image that not only reaches out and grabs customers’ attention, but also makes a positive impression within those precious few seconds when they first walk in.

1. Unmistakable storefronts

Traffic-stopping storefronts use a thoughtful combination of exterior architecture, signage and window displays to ensure a powerful first impression.

At the Lizard Lounge store in Portland, a historic industrial building helps to relay a “recycled and reclaimed” image. It also gives the store a thoughtful and inviting atmosphere that is approachable, familiar and interesting. It all adds to the Lizard Lounge image that says “a retail environment where a consumer can find a curator-inspired selection of items that won’t be found at a chain store.”

2. Store windows

A store’s exterior windows or glass storefront provide a prime opportunity to reach out and grab passing customers. Windows are integral in creating a positive impression since they offer a way to begin telling your store’s unique merchandise story.

Many retailers underestimate the powerful pull of an effective window, treating the area more as additional stock space than the true image-maker and magnet it can be. This prime real estate should be approached as a showcase for the newest seasonal merchandise and dramatized with props and themes that tie into your store image.

Simple Tip: Clean windows and fresh paint can cure a lot!


3. Store entrance

The entrance to the store is the division between the outside and inside environments. An inviting entrance is crucial in stopping the customer and establishing a positive first impression; however, if the inside store messages create feelings of inconsistency or confusion, all is lost.

For example, a clear and well-articulated store entrance that leads into a barrage of inconsistent aisle patterns, sloppy merchandising and confusing signage signals to customers that the exterior image will not be fulfilled on the inside. Truly impressive stores are consistent in all efforts from the storefront right through to the stockroom.

The first two tables in the store entrance set the tone of the store. These create your theme and draw in consumers. Merchandising opens up the opportunity to change a point of view about the store and its products by how you wear it or see it.

Simple Tip:Don’t forget that the music you play represents what you and your target customers are interested in. Consumers will identify with this element as soon as they walk through your door.

Visual hooks

A visual hook is a call to action that diverts customer attention to your store with a “Stop! There’s something here for you!” message. Powerful visual hooks work with other visual merchandising components to create a more memorable first impression.

An exciting entrance presentation, effective promotional signage, a powerful interior display, in-store animation or events all serve as magnets to draw in customers. Successful hooks ensure that the impressions they project are consistent with the store’s overall image. Well-executed hooks hold tremendous appeal for customers, particularly those people who like to browse.

Simple Tip: Make sure any artwork or visuals are up to date with seasons and your stock. Support your apparel merchandising with the right visuals.


The goal in building your store image: To foster beautiful brand love between consumers and your store to get them to come back — and better yet, tell their friends, too.

About Lizard Lounge

The Lizard Lounge is a retail clothing store created to be a third place to go other than home or work. A place to relax, have a good cup of coffee, see the work of a local artist, listen to live music, access free Internet or play a game of ping-pong. No pressure, good service and great clothes on one hand, with beer, coffee and good music on the other. Live. Work. Play. Lounge. To find out more, visit